Oct. 23--FRANKLIN -- A change in Simpson County's fire protection rating has city and county officials wondering what they should do to improve service.
The Insurance Services Office assigned the county a score ranging from 6 to 8B on its 10-point public protection classification scale that measures municipal fire protection efforts.
The rating, which varies throughout the county based in part on a household's proximity to a fire hydrant and fire station, took effect Aug. 1 and was based on an ISO survey taken last year in Simpson County.
Generally, an ISO score of 1 signifies superior fire protection, while 10 indicates that fire protection in a municipality fails to meet minimum ISO standards.
A score closer to 10 often results in higher insurance premiums for homeowners.
Before the latest survey, Franklin city limits had an ISO rating of 4 while the county had a rating of 6, based on a 2000 survey taken when the city and county had separate fire departments. The city fire department was consolidated with the county in 2006.
On Monday, Simpson County Judge-Executive Jim Henderson appeared before the Franklin City Commission to talk about the ramifications of the new rating.
Henderson said that he, Franklin City Manager Kenton Powell and Franklin-Simpson Fire and Rescue Chief Mark Halcomb have met with an ISO official this month to discuss the survey and submit additional information that Henderson believes will cause the ISO rating to be revised down to 5.
In the meantime, Henderson considered the question of whether the change in rating is affecting homeowner policies and offered "yes and no" as a response, based on his conversations with insurance companies.
"Insurance is going up, period," Henderson said, referencing wildfires and other national disasters having a bearing on insurance premiums. "This is a banner year for premium increases nationwide on properties."
The judge-executive also noted that online research into other communities' protection plans indicated to him that the difference in premium rates between ISO scores of 4 and 6 is rather small compared to communities seeing a change in their rating in the 7 to 9 range.
Additionally, Henderson noted that insurance companies State Farm, Allstate and Nationwide do not use the ISO ratings to determine premiums, but rely instead on the number of claims made in an area.
Nonetheless, the judge-executive told the commissioners that he is open to discuss possible ways to improve fire protection, listing examples such as hiring more firefighters, building another station or buying newer equipment.
"Nothing is off the table for us to consider if we think it can improve fire protection in the county and save taxpayers money," Henderson said.
Sheila Butterbaugh, former chief of the Franklin Fire Department, said Monday that it was "disheartening and aggravating" to see the ISO score change after she led a department that helped net Franklin a rating of 4 in 2000.
"For the city to achieve its best possible ISO rating, we had to prepare for three years (beforehand)," Butterbaugh said. "The city can do better because it has."
Butterbaugh said that in her conversations with insurance companies, property owners see little difference in their premiums when they live in an area with an ISO between 1 and 4, and that communities whose ratings move to a 5 or above see "more significant changes" in their premiums, adding that her own insurance coverage includes a $350 premium increase.
"I understand you're frustrated, and we are, too," Franklin Mayor Ronnie Clark said.
The mayor and many of the commissioners agreed that they should consider all available options and review as much information as they can before devising solutions to address fire protection.
"I think public perception is when you take a downgrade or decrease in your rating, something is wrong," Commissioner Mason Barnes said. "I think we just need to digest what's going on and see where we go from here."
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